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In Amber Midthunder, ‘Prey’ Has Found a New Kind of Action Hero

It was the sort of pitch a little too juicy to ignore: What if Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Predator had come to earth in another era? In Prey, director Dan Trachtenberg deposits viewers into a barely touched North American wilderness in the 1700s, where a young Comanche woman named Naru is brought face to face with the extraterrestrial trophy hunters who’ve caused so many headaches for other members of the franchise.

Most of those others — from Schwarzenegger on up — are armed with machine guns, hand grenades, sniper rifles and DA CHOPPER. Naru’s only got a couple pre-Industrial Age weapons and a loyal dog at her disposal, giving the eponymous Predator a distinct advantage. But one thing that Predator doesn’t have is Amber Midthunder, the fast-rising star and member of the Fort Peck Sioux Tribe who gives this movie its beating heart. The movie rests entirely on her performance and she carries it capably, showing a natural affinity for action sequences that all but guarantees we’ll be seeing a lot of her in the future.

Critics of the movie have called Naru a “Mary Sue” (a very dumb piece of online slang for a girl who can inexplicably do it all) but such critics must not have actually watched the movie. Prey goes to great lengths to follow Naru’s journey from terror to toughness, with Midthunder believably transforming in front of our eyes into the sort of woman that even an alien big game hunter might pause before attacking.

The success of Prey (sadly regulated to streaming-only status — this would have been a fun one in a theater) breaks down a host of records for representation, marking the first time a franchise movie has ever starred a predominantly Native American and indigenous cast.

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Nobody really comes to the Predator franchise for thoughtful, cerebral filmmaking. This is a sci-fi slasher whose first outing contained the line “I ain’t got time to bleed.” Prey wisely steers clear of getting overly preachy. Like Alien before it, the filmmakers know that it’s a radical thing for a movie like it to exist, and they let the movie do its own talking. And it may not be alone for long.

Marvel’s Echo will mark the studio’s first Indigenous-led property on Disney Plus and Reservation Dogs just dropped its second season on FX. Indigenous actors — long relegated to either violent antagonist or spiritual mentor — are finally getting some more opportunities that defy old stereotypes.

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